(Is Richard Schaefer’s welterweight tourney the real deal, or smoke and mirrors?)
When Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer bandied about the notion of a welterweight tournament for HBO or Showtime, the reaction was mostly cynical apathy. Welterweight tournament? What’s the friggin point? Only one damn welterweight tournament anyone gives a rat’s arse about: it’s called Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather. That fight crowns a champion, as a match-up between the consensus two best in the division (and the sport). Any other welterweight tournament would be redundant. But the seeds are there for an exciting event that would introduce fans to some rising young fighters who might, by winning such an event, actually become a legitimate contender for the likes of Pacquiao and Mayweather one day. The simplest defense of Schaeffer is that with Golden Boy’s talent pool from 140-147, there’s a lot of great fights he could make. A tournament may not be necessary but it could be a worthy gimmick to create some buzz.
Promoters love to talk big. They promise the sun and the moon and often deliver a bucketful of dirt, maybe some twigs if you’re lucky. So when Schaefer tossed out some surprisingly formidable names as possible participants, a skeptical boxing fan might have speculated we’ll actually end up with a four-man between Luis Collazo, Devon Alexander, Pablo Cano and Jose Cotto. I prefer to look optimistically on this one. There’s solid potential for a compelling, meaningful event that could even bring in some new fans with the proper promotional build-up, especially an HBO 24/7 for every step of the way. Maybe one with a new twist: the eight boxers live in a house together for 48 hours and get to know each other better before the tournament. 24/7 undoubtedly creates buzz…why HBO doesn’t utilize it more often mystifies me.
The most critical point though is that Schaefer and Golden Boy need the commitment of a couple of their most treasured assets. The presence of two fighters in particular, Amir “He Who Would Be King” Khan and Victor “Redemption” Ortiz is absolutely vital. And their participation appears highly unlikely which I’ll address in a bit. Aside from the difficulty Golden Boy would have in securing its’ own fighters for the venture, there are plenty of other concerns and caveats involved.
The majority, if not all, of the participants would be Golden Boy fighters, which leaves out plenty of viable contenders; Andre Berto, Jan Zaveck, Mike Jones, to name a few. In fact, there aren’t many actual welterweight contenders who would participate because most of the fighters likely to be in the tournament have never actually fought in the division before. I’ll get to my bracket in a minute, but five out of the eight fighters would be moving up from a lighter weight class. I feel like that’s a point though that only the shrewdest and hardest-core of boxing dweebs would nitpick. Hell, fifty years ago, they’re all welterweights.
Schaefer could sell this thing as the tournament to find a challenger/successor to the great duo atop the welterweight division. An eight-man single elimination tournament. First round in March. Semis in July. Final in December. Would it ever possibly go that smoothly? Hell no. But in theory, you can have this entire thing in 2012, and the winner poised to take on the pound-for-pound kings by the spring of 2013. And to make that even halfway believable, Golden Boy has to sign up Khan and Ortiz. Ortiz has the biggest name of the group off of his date with Mayweather. Khan has the talent and charisma to become a superstar and he’s already a solid draw in the U.K. The problem is neither man seems likely to commit to a year-long tournament.
Khan takes on Lamont Peterson on Dec. 10 and by all accounts that will be his last fight at 140 lbs. Not to look past Lamont, but since Khan has already presumptuously done so, he then intends to move up to the welterweight division and his rumored first opponent has been Kell Brook (and Matthew Hatton was mentioned in a recent report). Beyond that, he’s angling for a fight with Mayweather, a lucrative pay-per-view extravaganza that would net Khan his biggest payday. Surely, with a Mayweather fight on the horizon, team Khan wouldn’t take any major risks to jeopardize that, nor would they commit to something that might conflict with that potential meeting.
So here’s what I think Schaefer could do and this is how my bracket would look. Each of these cards has a 24/7 episode attached. They work.
MARCH 2012 — QUARTERFINALS WEEK ONE
Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook/Matthew Hatton
Robert Guerrero vs. Devon Alexander
24/7 highlights: Alexander and Guerrero argue over who has a more tragic back-story. Hatton goes clubbing, wakes up naked in someone’s backyard.
To lure Khan in, Schaefer can give him the fight he was already planning to take for his 147 debut, Brook or Hatton. Give him a solid payday. If he wins, he gets the winner of Guerrero/Alexander, two smaller guys also getting acclimated to the higher weight. Business-wise, Khan and his team don’t want to do anything to jeopardize a Mayweather fight, especially if that comes closer to fruition next year. But those would seem to be two very palatable foes for Khan to begin his welterweight career. And you have to give Khan a crucial out: If he gets the Mayweather fight, he’s out of his obligation to the tournament. So let’s say he wins two fights and then gets the call from Floyd for next fall. Wouldn’t that destroy the entire tournament? I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe the tournament’s got a little buzz and at that point an Andre Berto would be willing to step in for the right price. I can’t speculate on that because there’s a significant chance that Mayweather-Khan doesn’t happen. This is Floyd “Money” Mayweather we’re talking about here. Not exactly the most predictable, reliable guy in the sport. Who the hell knows what he’ll be up to in a year? And as boxing fans, we should be discouraging the hell out of all this Mayweather-Khan talk because that would mean, again, that Mayweather-Pacquiao isn’t happening.
MARCH 2012 — QUARTERFINALS WEEK TWO
Victor Ortiz vs. Paulie Malignaggi
Marcos Maidana vs. Lucas Matthysse
24/7 highlights: Malignaggi puts Ortiz’ toothbrush in the toilet. Maidana shows himself to be an amazing chef and talented pianist.
Okay, so I’ve got one glaring mismatch and one potential bloodbath. Anyone groaning over the mere idea of Ortiz-Malignaggi has to acknowledge that the undercard could be something special, two Argentine warriors going at it.
I actually think Malignaggi’s a perfect comeback opponent for Ortiz. Let’s not forget in all the ridiculousness of Sep. 17, Ortiz was brutally knocked out in that fight. I’m not sure he should be rushing into another savage war against a hungry-for-vengeance Berto. Paulie, for all his shortcomings, still has some stuff going for him. He’s one of the better names in the division, with a modest following. He’s a slick fighter with a ton of heart and guts. And his incessant smack-talking will be highly entertaining as he attempts to rattle the fragile psyche of Ortiz throughout the promotion. If Ortiz is at his peak, he stops Paulie within six rounds. But if there’s any sign of that mental instability, any insecurity, any lack of confidence, the slightest misstep and Paulie will… okay, well Paulie will still probably lose.
I admit Ortiz-Malignaggi would be a better promotion than a fight, but it could give us crucial information on the state of Ortiz, coming off the devastation and humiliation of his previous ill-fated outing. Maidana-Matthysse on the under-card is a potential scorcher that would likely redeem even the worst version of Ortiz-Malignaggi.
This bracket also, very intentionally, sets up an Ortiz-Maidana rematch if it plays out that way. The first-round cupcake Ortiz would get in the form of “Magic Man” Malignaggi would quickly be forgotten no matter who emerges from the rubble of Maidana-Matthysse. Despite Ortiz being bigger and more accomplished at welterweight, I wouldn’t see either man from Argentina as a serious underdog against Ortiz.
The ideal scenario for Ortiz would be to vanquish the demons of Maidana and move on to Amir Khan in the final, a man trying to steal the shot that Ortiz blew, the vaunted Mayweather opponent role. So if the favorites played out, here’s how the schedule would look.
JULY 2012 — SEMIFINALS
Amir Khan vs. Robert Guerrero
Victor Ortiz vs. Marcos Maidana II
DECEMBER 2012 — FINAL AND 3RD PLACE
Amir Khan vs. Victor Ortiz
Robert Guerrero vs. Marcos Maidana
These aren’t going to be cheap fights to make. Khan and Alexander have banked million-dollar paychecks in the past. Ortiz, coming off a career-high payday of $2.5 million dollars may very well have some outrageously delusional demand for his next fight. The truth is the tournament needs him as much as anyone. But the guy made $550,000 combined in his fights against Berto and Lamont Peterson. How much would it take to get him in there with Malignaggi? Shy of seven figures, I would hope. Overall though, the cost probably isn’t a deal-breaker. This would be a huge chance for fighters like Guerrero, Matthysse, and Alexander to really shake things up and put their names in the running for mega-fights down the line. The essence of the plan is to slightly overpay Khan and Ortiz and convince the others to sign on for the massive opportunity to make their names and advance their careers. If you can keep the early rounds in the area of $2 million dollars and maybe shell out $3-4 million if you actually do get an Ortiz-Khan finale, the fights will end up costing around $10 million and produce four quality shows. Seems like a manageable scenario for HBO, with a reported $35 million a year to spend on fights.
Now here’s another massive disclaimer where I try to disavow everything I’ve written above. This tournament would postpone the much clamored for Ortiz-Berto rematch. BoxingScene.com recently ran a piece with Brandon Rios announcing he wants to go up to 140 and challenge Maidana in what would surely be an absolute bloodbath between two aggressive warrior-types. When I read that, I almost said “Fuck the welterweight tournament, make THAT fight!” Schaefer’s tournament will never be perfect. It won’t satisfy every boxing fan’s wish, and the Ortiz-Berto rematch is high on a lot of people’s lists, including mine. Not even my imaginary tournament could make that happen. If I were the omnipotent, invisible hand of boxing, I wouldn’t do what I wrote above. I’d make Ortiz-Berto 2. Khan would fight Tim Bradley. Maidana-Rios? Hell effing yes! And I wouldn’t even let Mayweather fight Pacquiao anymore, he’d be fighting Sergio Martinez at the full 160 lb middleweight limit. This is far from a perfect proposal.
But there remain two major reasons I semi-jumped on board with Schafe’s idea:
People love tournaments I really want to see Khan get comfortable at welterweight and beat a top-ranked guy before getting the Mayweather fight.
If Golden Boy goes through with this, they need to make it worthwhile and relevant. And the only way that happens is the casting of Khan and Ortiz as leading men.